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Obama immigration speech in Texas: a bald plea to Hispanic voters

The partisan tone of Obama's speech on immigration reform and the barbs he aimed at Republicans made it clear he was courting Hispanic voters whose support he will need in 2012.

By Staff writer / May 10, 2011

A boy listens to President Barack Obama speak on immigration reform at Chamizal National Memorial Park in El Paso, Texas, Tuesday.

Jim Young/Reuters

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President Obama laid down a marker Tuesday for Hispanic voters: He will keep fighting for a reform of the US immigration system that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.

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Mr. Obama made the pledge in El Paso, Texas, near the Mexican border, in a speech that was ostensibly about a plan for comprehensive immigration reform. But in its partisan tone could be heard the stirrings of his 2012 reelection campaign.

Obama asserted that he had fulfilled the “borders first” requirement of Republicans, who have argued that comprehensive immigration reform cannot be considered until US borders are secure. He said that there are now more border patrol agents on the border than ever before, and that the border fence is now “basically complete.” And he detailed other measures, including a tripling of intelligence analysts working the border and a move to screen 100 percent of rail shipments heading south into Mexico, to intercept guns and money.

“So, we have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement,” Obama said, “But even though we’ve answered these concerns, I suspect there will be those who will try to move the goal posts one more time.”

Maybe Republicans will say we need a moat, he continued. “Or alligators in the moat,” he said, to laughter. “They’ll never be satisfied. And I understand that. That’s politics.”

The partisan tone of the speech was striking, but not unexpected. Obama recently announced his reelection campaign, and the Republican presidential field is taking shape. With the Hispanic vote highly prized, both parties are angling to make inroads – but it is Obama who has jumped out in front.

In 2008, Obama won 67 percent of the Hispanic vote, to Republican John McCain’s 31 percent. For Obama to win a second term, he needs to score big with Hispanics again. In several swing states – beginning with Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, and North Carolina – the Hispanic vote could spell the difference between winning and losing for Obama.

So far, Latinos have expressed disappointment with the president’s record, and he has met with community stakeholders in recent weeks in an effort to make them feel, at a minimum, that they are heard. With the Republican Party in control of the House, it will be well nigh impossible to pass comprehensive reform, and probably impossible, too, to pass the Dream Act, which creates a path to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants.

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